Live streamed concerts and music events mixed bag so far

Back in February Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli released Random Desire, his eagerly anticipated first official solo album. Reviews were off the charts and a tour from one of the most enigmatic frontmen to break out of the grunge era with a unique spin on rock and soul next lined up a tour which was scheduled to stop at Philly’s Union Transfer May 7.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

A rescheduled date at the downtown venue for September 29 was also scuttled, with Dulli one more casualty of COVID-19 and the havoc it’s wreaked on the music industry since March. Untold numbers of bands have been pulled off the road, festivals were cancelled and planned tours shutdown in the wake of the pandemic, leaving artists to come up with new ways to get their music across to fans, the majority of them starving for a concert experience that’s currently unavailable.

Sure, there’s been attempts at “socially distant” shows in recent weeks but rocking out in a setting with 25% capacity isn’t fun for anyone. The alternatives aren’t exactly the most exhilarating ways to replicate concerts either, though you have to start somewhere.

This past weekend, Lollapalooza was set to take place at Chicago’s Grant Park per usual and expectedly needed to be aborted for the year. Instead, organizers decided to stream the long-running destination festival like it was still happening in real-time, broadcasting archival performances from the likes of past-headliners and then lower-billed like Metallica, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire and Lorde. Fresh displays by up and coming acts and well-knowns like The Struts and Jane’s Addiction were hyped for the four-day spectacular available via YouTube.

Unfortunately, the virtual fest was plagued with bad sync, late starts, dropped connections and a marked failure to deliver the advertised “full sets” from years prior. Paul McCartney 2015 for instance, had some bizarre editing that included some of his recent solo material, but excluded Beatles’ hits like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Blackbird” and “Paperback Writer,” all of which had been in the original set.

Lollapalooza was ambitious, yet it missed the mark too much of the time. There’s no question how far digital technology and live streaming has evolved in recent years, but there are entirely too many things that can go wrong to make it a viable replacement for the in-person experience.

Some acts took to streaming gigs on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook when COVID-19 hit. It was a novelty at first, certainly nothing worth paying for of course, rather a solid avenue for bands to explore in keeping in touch with their fans. But when it became apparent things weren’t going to get back to normal anytime soon, more extreme measure needed to be taken. 

Prerecording sequestered live gigs and charging fans to watch is the next logical step. Obviously, we’re not going to get into Rolling Stones territory where tickets cost $300 for a somewhat acceptable seat, so nobody is breaking the bank. Prices range from Stone Temple Pilots streaming a performance of their debut LP ‘Core’ for $9.99 to parody metal band Steel Panther asking $15 for the “Lockdown in the Lockdown” to benefit Crew Nation and a Los Angeles animal rescue.

These shows are professionally produced, available for a limited time and have the feel of a true live show without actually being in the room with the artists, waiting in line for the bathroom or getting a drink spilled on you – unless your significant other gets a bit out of control.

Last Saturday, Greg Dulli did two live streamed performances that had been prerecorded at the Los Angeles hotel/bar/studio Gold Diggers at a cost of $12 each. One was for the UK and the other North America, though dedicated fans were able watch both as the singer had promised “two very different shows.” He delivered beyond satisfactorily, peppering both sets with songs from the new album, the Afghan Whigs and collaborative Twilight Singers project. At the end of the second hour long gig, Dulli went into the Prince deep cut “Baby, I’m a Star.”

“Hey, take a listen/Tell me do you like what you hear?/If it don’t turn you on/Just say a word, I’m gone,” goes one of the verses to the song. Music fans need to take what they can get at this point, let’s hope artists like Dulli stick around in these weird times.

This article appeared in yesterday’s print edition of The Daily Times in my weekly Rock Music Menu column under the title “Live streams are a mixed bag so far.”

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